Tag Archives: seeds

Guerrilla Gardening

Meet Ron Finley – resident of South Central L.A. and guerrilla gardener. Even if you’ve never been near the place, you probably have at least a vague notion that South Central is not really where you want to find yourself. But for the residents, it’s home, and many people couldn’t move if they wanted to (and they probably want to). So, instead of jumping ship, this man decided to do something about it; to try to make a difference that everyone in his community could appreciate and anyone could participate in if they wanted.

Food Deserts

South Central L.A. is considered a food desert. That means that the residents don’t have access to healthy foods within a relatively convenient distance, though they often have plenty of access to fast food, and convenience and liquor stores. Food deserts exist all over the U.S., predominantly effecting lower-income areas, where there are, on average, 3 times fewer grocery stores than in wealthier neighborhoods. This is entirely related to the off-balance obesity rates and incidents of type-2 diabetes in these communities.

Why you should get involved

The purposes of guerrilla gardening are to both beautify and provide healthy food for local communities, no matter what their socio-economic status. As the gap between wealth and poverty widens and the middle class shrinks, it’s not just the food deserts that need help. In suburban neighborhoods, many people are struggling more to make ends meet and, as Ron Finley says, “growing your own food is like printing your own money,” and he tells us that about $1 worth of green beans can generate as much as $75 worth of produce.

The effects are much more far-reaching than that, though. These gardens offer incredible educational opportunities for both children and adults, to learn how to be more self-sufficient and to understand and appreciate the importance of fresh vegetables, for health, yes, but for well-being in general. Kids that are out in the garden aren’t out getting into trouble, or sitting in front of a television. They’re learning how to improve themselves and their communities instead of watching fast food advertisements. Another great benefit is that you can control where your seeds come from and how they’re grown. You can buy non-GMO seeds, and choose not to use pesticides. You generate less waste from trips to the grocery store and all the paper and plastic you come away with in addition to your food. This is something worth getting involved with in some capacity, even if you’re just chucking sunflower seeds down a grate or creating graffiti art with moss (link to instructions below). Make whatever difference you can!

Watch Ron Finley’s TED talk. It’s only about 10 minutes long and worth your time!

Learn more about food deserts at the Food Empowerment Project.

Advice and tips on how to get started

Community pages on guerrillagardening.org and a Facebook page – try to find other guerrilla gardeners in your area to team up with

How to make moss graffiti

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Seed Bombing

Seed bombs are an ancestral Japanese gardening technique, called Tsuchi Dango (earth dumpling), re-integrated into farming practices by Masanobu Fukuoka, microbiologist, farmer and author of The One Straw Revolution. Their purpose is to plant and grow with minimal human intervention, which makes them perfect for guerrilla gardening (more about that another day). You make a little ball of clay and compost or fertilizer with the seeds rolled up inside. This gives them a good start in life no matter where they land.

After about 3 weeks, give or take depending on rainfall, temperatures, etc, the seeds will start to germinate, pushing down into the soil, and the ball will break apart as the plant grows, loosening more seeds to germinate.

Some Considerations

flower-1085136_640There are a few things to consider in seed bombing. Think about your environment and opt for non-invasive species. You can make seed bombs with one type of plant, or with a combination of seeds from different plants that play well together (companion planting). The earth is your canvas, and you can beautify it any way you like. You might even want to create a slow explosion of herbs, like basil, rosemary, thyme…or a soft ground cover around the base of an urban tree that will provide the soil with nitrogen, like clover…or flowers that provide comestibles for bees and butterflies…whatever you like.

Another thing to think about is possible intervention. Your efforts will be wasted if you seed bomb an area that gets mowed by city workers. Look for neglected spots or little islands of safety where the mowers can’t reach, such as under park benches or right up against the side of a building.

Community

Neglected and desolate spaces have a negative impact on the community, mentally and demographically. They’re ugly, repellent. We often manage to walk by them without paying attention, blocking them from our overt mental processes, but anything you see is ultimately processed by your brain, whether you know it or not. You can make a very real difference in the well-being of your community, and have fun doing it! So if you don’t have plans for the weekend, or are feeling bored, do a little seed bombing project. Here are some simple instructions for making seed bombs. There are several different ways to make them and lots of tutorials available, so feel free to search for one that works for you. Watch this Seed Bomber video to get inspired!

 

 

 

 

 

An Unsustainable Food Supply

Fur trappers and traders who came to North America in the 1600s and 1700s had to eat what they could forage and catch. Rabbits were plentiful in many regions at that time, and so they formed the bulk of some trappers’ diets. Those trappers who relied too heavily on rabbit meat often died of malnutrition. Rabbit meat takes more calories to procure than you get back from eating it. That balance is unsustainable, and yet it is exactly how the U.S. food system works.

A little bit of math

It takes approximately 10 calories worth of fossil fuels to produce and transport 1 calorie of food. That means, for a family of four with a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, 930 gallons of gas per year will be required to produce and transport their food, not including that family driving to and from the grocery store. Since the average household in the U.S. consumes somewhere around 1,000 gallons of gas per year, the way we manage our food supply nearly doubles the already ridiculous amount of fuel each person is responsible for consuming. That kind of imbalance on a personal level will eventually kill you, and what we’re seeing on a national level is no different.

Approximately 15% of the energy supply in the United States goes into crop production, livestock production, food processing, and packaging. A Cornell University professor of ecology and agricultural science did the math for what that means for the big picture: if all of humanity were to go about food production the way the U.S. does, we would exhaust all known fossil fuel reserves in seven years. Wow, that’s wasteful!

Agricultural practices contribute greatly to global warming. Because of the complexity of the problem and the multitude of factors, it’s difficult to arrive at an accurate number, but it’s thought that approximately 33% of contributions to climate change are a direct result of the food supply system. Some of the factors are farm machinery, petroleum-based chemicals used in synthetic fertilizers, the manufacturing processes for agro-chemicals and fertilizers, the processing of major crops like corn and soy into a vast array of derived products, and the distribution over long distances of everything, including the final output. Animal agriculture itself accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions (18%) than all transportation in the globe (14%). (Others argue that the figure of 18% allows a large number of unallocated emissions that are really due to animal agriculture, bringing the figure up to 51% – read more here.)

Let’s take school lunches as an example, if only because a) they need to change anyway as they’re incredibly unhealthy for our children, and b) I can quote directly from an article by Tom Starrs, VP and COO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation:

“According to 2005 USDA National School Lunch Program participation figures, 29.6 million American school children were served nearly five billion meals at school last year. Typically these meals are highly processed, filled with conditioners, preservatives, dyes, salts, artificial flavors, and sweeteners. Usually they’re individually portioned and packaged, and travel thousands of miles to the school cafeteria.

School meals are commonly delivered frozen, wrapped and sealed in energy-consumptive packaging, and in need of some interval in a warming oven to thaw before being served to students. Studies of packaging and plate waste in school cafeterias indicate that, every day, as much as half, by weight, of these hasty, unappetizing, low-nutrient, highly processed and packaged meals is tossed by students — unopened, un”appreciated”, untasted, unrecycled and uncomposted. The energy needed to collect and transport the waste generated by school lunch must also be added to the net energy embedded in the meal.”

This is no different from food in the grocery store, which travels hundreds if not thousands of miles to get there, and is wastefully packaged to boot.

It’s the Monsanto monster again

A huge amount of agriculture and food supply mismanagement can be traced back to Monsanto & friends. The federal government has been convinced by lobbyists and money to subsidize over-production of monoculture crops such as corn and soy. They are genetically modified crops, grown in petroleum-based synthetic fertilizer, drenched in herbicides and insecticides, then either fed to cattle who can’t digest them or highly processed before going into your own food. Monsanto & friends get extremely-well paid, while you and I foot the bill, twice – once in our tax dollars funding their subsidies and once for increasingly expensive health care to treat our inevitable diet-related illnesses.

Farmers growing fruits and vegetables that are fit for human consumption don’t receive subsidies. It’s really an upside-down system. We should be able to offer farmers subsidies to protect them from a year of drought, blight, etc., but not for purposeful overproduction of nutritionally useless and environmentally damaging crops that serve no purpose but to line the pockets of those in charge of unethical corporations.

Tipping point

With a rising global population, increases in droughts and flooding, and a beautiful planet that can’t take much more of what we’re throwing at her, we absolutely have to make our system more sustainable and energy-efficient if we’re going to survive. None of us can implement that change alone, but we can each make choices in our daily lives that will contribute, and we can urge others to do the same. If enough of us care and get involved, we can and will reach a tipping point where the system will have to change. It’s a top-down problem that we need to try to solve from the bottom-up. We all have to get involved. Buy local as much as possible. Go to farmer’s markets. Grow your own vegetables at home. Start to think about the net energy that goes into your food and the waste that results. Start or get involved in a local community garden, farm-to-school program, or food forest project. Above all, teach your children!

Be Your Own Seed Sovereign

Semi-natural selection

For many of us, the end of the outdoor growing season is too quickly approaching. Plants, like any other living being, need some time to acclimate to a new environment. Seeds carry a sort of genetic memory from the parent plant, passing on adaptive information about climate, soil, and pests. Each year you can choose the healthiest, hardiest plants with the yummiest vegetables in your garden, and save their seeds for the next year.

Through your own careful selection, you will eventually end up with your own quasi-heirloom seeds. Quasi- because seeds from the same parent plant have to be continually produced for about 50 years in order to be considered officially heirloom.  They’ll be specifically adapted to the growing conditions in your garden, and even especially suited to your own taste preferences (in time).

corn-823884_640You can also experiment with cross-pollination and create something unique. It would be fun and you’d be doing your part for biodiversity, so vital for a sustainable food supply, not to mention what it does for your dinner plate. You’ll save money, too, not having to buy seeds every year. You can trade with others in your region who have also saved their seeds, and try different varieties of vegetables for free.

Another significant advantage in being the one who decides which qualities to encourage in your garden is that you’re no longer subject to the seeds that big agra has chosen for shipping quality and longer storage. You can select for flavor and ease of care. It’s personally empowering and satisfying, and it’s not difficult or overly time-consuming. Learn more about Food & Seed Sovereignty. Most importantly – you’ll be GMO-free.

Tips

pumpkin-seeds-1323854_640

Beginner’s guide to seed-saving

The complete guide, vegetable seed saving video

Seed storage (with printable version)

Tutorial including a glossary of terms you should know and a breakdown of which seeds to try for the beginner, experienced and expert.

Another tutorial, with great descriptions for specific vegetables from another beginner seed-saver.

And let’s not forget, a ton of seeds are edible! Take advantage of that, too. They’re very healthy. Here’s a list of edible seeds.

Safe Seeds

Make sure your garden is GMO-free

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You might think that if you’re growing veggies in your own garden at home that means you’re not in danger of using GM seeds or supporting their corporate parents via profit-margins. Unfortunately, if we dig a little deeper, we find out that it’s not quite so simple. Companies like Monsanto are interested in profit, which means they aren’t just selling GM seeds. They want to control as much of the market as possible, so they also gain your unwitting support by selling standard seeds.

We use the expression garden-variety to mean bland, boring, average. Heirloom crops are anything but. They’ve been naturally honed over generations to produce plants that are ideally suited to their native environments, that have the most exciting flavors and, frankly, they look pretty cool.

One of the first things you notice about heirloom crops, before you even have a chance to taste them, is their incredible variety and vibrancy. They’re exciting, they dress up your garden and your plate, but they’re important for a very different reason:

Science

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You can tell what nutrients are in fruits and vegetables based on their color. That’s why it’s important to ‘taste the rainbow’ (not the sugar-filled one). Eating a large variety of different-colored fruits and veggies is a great way to ensure that you and your family are getting the nutrition you need. Here’s a basic guide to see which colors indicate which nutrients, and what they do for your body.

Now tell me you’d rather eat one of those anemic tomatoes from the grocery store than that beautiful ‘Black from Tula’ in the image above. Want your kids to be more into veggies? Go heirloom, and make sure they participate in the growing process, too. If they feel like an important part of the process, they’ll be more interested in the results.

Even if you only have a window sill available, you can still take advantage of your space. Try out heirloom herbs. They are said to have more potent flavors than those grown in large-scale agriculture. It’ll do wonders for your pesto. You can also get flower seeds, so if you don’t have a vegetable patch, find some organic heirloom flowers to grow in your home.

PatatesNeed another reason to start growing heirloom crops? How about we start with biodiversity? Most of us have heard of Ireland’s potato famine. A large percentage of the potatoes being grown in Ireland at that time were of a single variety. The lack of genetic diversity in Ireland’s potatoes was one reason why the potato blight had such devastating effects there, but less severe effects in other European countries that were also affected by the disease. Heirloom seeds come from varieties that have been around for a long time and help increase resiliency. Strength in adversity through diversity. If drought or disease kill some, others will survive.

What’s in a seed?

A much more interesting question than “what’s in a name?” One of the things you find when you unpack a seed is self-sufficiency. If you want to decrease your dependence on food sources that you can’t trust and that have decidedly myopic policies, growing heirloom fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers is key. When you buy seeds from places like the Seed Saver’s Exchange, a non-profit organization by the way, you’re not investing in a greedy corporation, you’re investing in a group of people with a measurable degree of moral fortitude. You’re investing in sustainability. You’re investing in yourself and your family.

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